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Who Are You Calling an Artist?

August 26th, 2011

We have a bone to pick with those well-meaning name-callers who like to refer to us as the “a-word” – artists. While their verbal path may be paved with good intentions, and there is a certain element of the artistic to design, it needs to be noted that there’s an ocean of difference that distinguishes the roles of artists vs. that of designers.

WHO: Whereas an artist generally produces art for him or herself and then offers the work up for sale in a gallery or to private collectors, a designer is engaged to create a piece that is aimed at a specific pre-determined audience. While it’s a common mistake to believe the designer is working to satisfy the personal preferences of the client themselves, our goal is to appeal to the client’s target demographic, not an individual or group of people in the client’s company.

WHAT: Unless commissioned to create a specific type of piece, an artist generally works in a medium of their own choosing. Some may focus on sculpture, while others may specialize in textile art, painting or multimedia installations. On the contrary, a designer is usually brought in to produce a specific marketing vehicle, whether it be a new logo and brand identity, a direct mail piece, signage for new real estate development or a web site.

WHY: The very reason for an artist’s creative endeavors is personal expression. The artist creates work based on their own inspiration and emotions to fulfill a personal vision of what the piece will be. A designer’s “why” is the polar opposite – we develop concepts and creative approaches that will intentionally speak to a well-defined target audience – satisfying our own preferences (or that of the client – we may have mentioned this a couple of times before…) is not the focus. Our goal should always be on appealing to someone else – the end user of the client’s product or service.

WHEN: While there are always exceptions, artists often work at their own pace, taking the time they need to work on a piece until they’re satisfied with the end result. Ask any designer and they’ll tell you that design is a very deadline-oriented business. More often than not, by the time the client engages a designer, they want the finished product asap – like, yesterday. Rarely does a designer have open-ended timelines in which to conceptualize and pore over typographic details in a layout.

WHERE: Artists generally work in a studio space, which may be in or separate from their home. Designers work in any number of settings – as an in-house designer within a larger company, within a design firm or other creative agency, as a one-man marketing/design department for a smaller company, as principal of their own company or as a freelancer.

While the aesthetic aspect of art definitely makes up a crucial component of design, the main differences between the two lie in purpose and intent. While art is generally created for art’s sake, design is a much more deliberate, calculated process with a specific end goal in mind. And, let’s face it, it’s a lot more challenging to appeal to an intended external audience than oneself. Without that audience, the very reason for the existence of design would be lost.

Now, please….go easy with the “a-word”, will ya?

Related Reading:

A Designer’s Research Manual: How to Succeed in Design by Knowing Your Clients and What They Really Need

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